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Highway 50, America’s Loneliest Road

I drove east today as the clouds looked like they might be interesting for landscape photos. East is highway 50, known as the loneliest road in America. It is remote and lightly traveled but it is always my route of choice if I am driving east. I have actually never crossed Nevada on I-80. I try to avoid the interstates if I can and travel on back roads. As I am usually on my way somewhere when driving this road and have never stopped to take photos. On my way back from Moab this fall I looked at the scenery with fresh eyes and saw a lot to like.

The light was tricky this afternoon but I took a few images I can share. Sand Mountain is the giant sand dune in one of the photos. It is a singing sand dune two miles long and six hundred feet high. From my vantage point I could see some ATV riders that looked like very small insects speeding up and down the dune. I was standing next to the ruins of one of the old Pony Express stations to take photos of the dunes. It was aptly named Sand Pass station and all that is left are these tumbled down rock walls.

Next on my list was to try to get some photos of Chalk Mountain. It is an interesting stark white peak sitting by itself just west of the Clan Alpine range. I finished up at sunset taking some photos of Fairview peak.

All of these sites are just a few miles from one another just off 50. I saw many more places I would like to photograph. I will be busy out there the next few months.

The Challenger

I took my new 7dmarkII out for its second test run Saturday and got lucky with some action at the water hole. In spite of the wet, cold, weather we have been having, the wild horses are still frequenting the pond. It started out boring with just one lonely bachelor hanging around but soon got very interesting. This young stallion had decided he was ready to take on the big boys and he challenged each stallion who showed up escorting his mares to drink.

Some of the skirmishes were short and it didn’t seem as if the older horses were taking the challenger too seriously. One stallion was not in the mood for the young bachelor and they had several encounters that were interesting to watch.

Most of these fights take a predictable path. The herd stallion runs out to meet the threat, any sexually mature male, they usually sniff noses followed by squealing or roaring and some hoof play and or nipping. Often that’s it and the bachelor runs off; end of drama.

The challenger, I will call White Socks as he has four white socks, was not running off. He was particularly vexing for this bay stallion who was not amused at his nonsense. They mixed it up several times without anyone getting hurt and no lost mares for the Bay.

The bay displayed most of the classic herd stallion behaviors. He moved his mares off and then turned to meet White Socks. In the photo with his head down he is “snaking” the mares out of the way.

Not all the pictures are in good focus. I need to work on that. Still getting to know the camera. The 7dII by the way is able to handle all the fast action without pausing. I will have to watch that. The editing was a real chore. 😉

Fear and Trust

Over the years I have spent a considerable amount of time around wild horse bands photographing them and observing them. I am by no means any kind of horse expert. I grew up riding and owning horses but not delving into their psychology or behavior puzzles. I love horses, their beauty, power and social structure are endlessly fascinating to me now and I know I am not alone in this interest. Horses have elicited that feeling in humans probably from the beginning of time.
One aspect of their behavior has proven both alarming but ultimately gratifying for me. That is when they switch from fearful animals exhibiting all the behaviors you would expect from prey animals to trusting, curious beings that want to get to know me better. This switch happens so quickly that I can imagine how our ancient ancestors made that mental leap to tame these beasts.
It happens a little differently each time depending on the band make up and the individuals in it. Bachelor bands have always been the most bold. These bands are made up of young stallions who have not formed their own family yet by stealing another stallions mares. They roam around together like most adolescent males looking for trouble, harassing each other, play fighting, making half- hearted attempts to challenge herd stallions they encounter and getting chased off. They are fun to watch.
They usually approach me slowly gathering courage from each other. I have to back away and sometimes shoo them off as I do not want them too close. I am very aware of how I could be hurt or my equipment damaged. I have the lessons and yes, scars, from encounters with domestic horses to temper any sentimentality I may feel. I never forget these are wild animals.
Herd stallions protecting his band of mares and offspring need special care. They can be aggressive and you must be on your guard. I watch his body language carefully and gauge my movements based on his reactions. The horses I usually photograph have seen a lot of people so there is not too much to be worried about.
I visit a stretch of the river that the Nature Conservancy has set aside a lot, and recently a small band of wild horses has taken to frequenting this area. It consists of a flaxen chestnut stallion I am going to call Arod. I don’t usually name the horses I encounter but a friend suggested that name from the Lord of the Rings after seeing photos of him. There are three mares, one is a seal brown, I have named Broken Star for the star on her forehead that is broken in two, and two bay mares without any distinguishing marks. There are two young horses with the band. A colt that looks just like his dad and a bay with a big white star on his or her face. Arod’s Son seems an apt name for the colt. He is devoted to the stallion. He follows him everywhere and copies his behavior. They seem to have a close bond.
Anyway, I took photos of this band on Thanksgiving and I ran into them again yesterday in more open terrain. The stallion was alarmed to see me. I think the camo I wear confuses them and adds to their wary behavior. He charged out of the group toward me in a wide arch coming at me from an angle. I took a few photos and decided to back off and continue on my way.
After a fruitless search for deer I decided to take pictures of the horses on the hike out. I approached carefully making a wide angle around them and sat down on a fallen tree to set up to take pictures. Arod and son came charging out together followed more slowly by Broken Star. At first the body language is highly alert and aggressive and I am on notice as well prepared to do what I need to do to fend him off if need be. Waving my arms and shouting have always been enough in these situations in the past. He eventually slows down and stands off in the distance for awhile. Broken Star joins him and the colt. Arod moves ever closer to me now with a different attitude. The wide eyed, whites showing look is gone. He holds his body and head differently. He seems to want to interact with me up close and personal. He keeps walking in so close that at times my long lens is rendered useless. I wave my arms gently and speak to him and the others in low tones telling them that they are close enough. I can’t risk them getting into my space. They seem to understand that. I have had this happen countless times.
They then relaxed into a family grooming session that illustrates how very relaxed they had become. This sequence of events never fails to amaze and please me. They seem to know they can trust me.

Happy Thanksgiving

It has become a tradition for me to make sure I spend Thanksgiving morning out enjoying nature as being able to immerse myself in the natural world is an aspect of life I am most grateful for. I had an awesome morning. The mule deer rut is in full swing so I donned all my camo and got out to the river before it got light. I included a couple of photos of me in my camo as some folks have asked to see it. It is far from flattering or fashionable attire but I think you can get an idea how effective it is when seen against a sagebrush backdrop. I bathe in scent killing soap, wash my camo in scent neutralizer and use scent elimination spray before heading into the brush. It certainly worked this morning.

I passed a band of wild horses feeding in a meadow by the water as I made my way deeper into the river bottom. Noting their location I was reassured that no matter what happened I wouldn’t get skunked for photo ops today.

I had not seen any deer as of yet and the woods were quiet. I wondered if I was going to see any deer. I was setting up my tripod and deciding where I should plant myself at the intersection of deer trails and all of the sudden the area was alive with deer. I had a spike and a small two point walking through a small grove of cottonwoods and heard more deer crashing around in the high grass about 75 yards to my left. I could see the large rack of a 4 point over the tops of the grass as he was chasing some does around but could never get a clear photo of him. Meanwhile the two smaller bucks just ignored me as I stood still and shot away at them. The two point heard the camera clicks and was alert to something amiss and never showed himself fully but the spike eventually lay down in the grass close to me but not where I could photograph him.

Something startled all of them at one point and they all ran away. It wasn’t me. Maybe a coyote or another hiker along the trail I hadn’t seen. I sat down in the sagebrush to wait for everything to calm down. A few minutes later a doe came charging through the brush and almost collided with me. We were both startled! Behind her a smaller 4 point came into the clearing so close I couldn’t get a photo. He saw me but couldn’t quite figure me out. He ran off and I got the slightly blurry photo of him as he scrambled off.

I decided to walk through the woods toward the place I had seen the horses. Looked into a thicket of young cottonwoods and saw a sleepy Great Horned Owl. Was able to take a few photos without disturbing him and moved on to the horses.

I have seen this band before and the herd stallion is a particularly good looking flaxen chestnut. He has passed his coloration on to his son complete with white blaze. The other looker in the band is a seal brown mare with a broken star on her face. I got some mediocre photos of the horses the grasses were in the way of some of the shots but all in all a very good day.

A perfectly happy Thanksgiving morning for me.

Black Rock Desert and Relearning the Lesson

At the Landscape workshop I attended there was of course a lot of technical talk of composition, light, exposure and post processing tricks and tips. The single most important take away for me was not any of that, but rather the importance of seizing opportunities. I know that seems simple and basic common sense but I needed to hear it. The photographer who taught the class talked of spending weeks in exotic far flung locations to get that one shot that was worth keeping. As he talked about the work and time that went into each beautiful photo he showed us I felt the enlightenment creeping in. Looking at beautiful landscape photography I would always think why can’t I take photos like that? Why do my photos turn out dull and ordinary? Now I knew.

Being honest with myself was the first step. Not getting out of bed to get there for the best light; done that a million times. Not staying late enough for the best light because I did not want to drive or walk out of a place in the dark, done that too many times to count. Hearing the rain in the middle of the night means I should get up and get ready to go at 3:00 AM or seeing the weather report predicting a storm should signal that I need to prepare to be out in it or soon after. That is when the light and clouds will help produce a great photograph. It is too tempting to snuggle into the covers or sit with a hot cup of tea and look out at the weather and think I will go later. Later is too late. You have to go when it isn’t pleasant to go to be where you need to be for those great shots.

Simple right? All of you great landscape photographers already knew this. I guess I knew it but now I will live by it. Yesterday was a perfect example. We got a rainstorm in the night and I thought no, it will be too overcast. Sun came up and the clouds broke beautifully for what would have been great light and drama if I had got myself out in it. Didn’t. I did take advantage of the afternoon evening to take these pictures of the Black Rock Desert with pretty good light and cloud drama but I had to motivate myself to get out there. Obviously it is a lesson I will have to keep learning.

P.S. My luck with wild horses held and got to see two very colorful wild paint horses in the desert.

Utah, Landscapes and Me

Yes it has been a long time since I have posted anything. I have been taking photographs but posting them on Facebook because it was easier and the immediate gratification without the discipline of writing a post is seductive isn’t it?

I took a long anticipated trip to and across southern Utah in October and attended a Landscape workshop in Moab. I have always wanted to pursue the art of Landscape photography but it is a daunting endeavor. Wildlife photography for me was more accessible both from a skill and opportunity standpoint. I learned at the workshop what I guess I always knew to be true; Landscape photography is not easy! Far from discouraged I actually left with a new sense of purpose. I will always be interested in shooting wildlife but I want to push myself to try to create landscape images I can be proud of too. So often I am in beautiful places looking for wildlife at sunrise and sunset that shooting landscapes in addition wildlife seems a natural right? We will see how this goes.

I visited Cathedral Valley on the way to Moab. It is a remote area in north Capital Reef National park. A stunning place I would like to visit again and of course shoot some Landscapes. These photos are of two of the most well known monoliths in the Valley, The Temple of the Sun and The Temple of the Moon.

Tree Skeletons

On Tuesday, my husband, our dog Maddie and I made a trip out to the edge of the Smoke Creek Desert. There was an old ranch, the Bonham ranch, abandoned for at least 75 years that I wanted to photograph. I have taken photos of it before but wanted to again as I believe I had learned a few things since the last time.
We got up early to be there at dawn. I thought I remembered where it was. It was still fairly dark when I saw some trees ahead showing where the ranch should be. Trees are a rare thing out here and usually there is something of interest if a place sports a few. At least there might be water.
We slowed down and didn’t see any buildings so we got into one of those discussions as we continued on rattling down the dirt road. “I think that was it.” But there weren’t any buildings?” “Did you see any buildings?” “No but that had to be it.” “It couldn’t have been. There was a ranch house and several outbuildings the last time we were here.” “It has been awhile maybe they burned down.” Ok, turn around let’s give it a look over.”
We were disappointed to say the least to see that all that was left of the ranch were charred ashes and a few trees. It looked like it had been burned down deliberately and everything hauled away. Not sure why that was done after so many years but gone is gone. I had to be satisfied with this photo of the tree at dawn.
We headed back the way we came hoping to see some antelope or desert bighorns. We stopped at Pyramid lake and walked through a lovely stand of Fremont Cottonwoods where I think I salvaged the trip with these black and white shots of dead trees.

I love My Camo!

Last year I watched the Outdoor channel a lot getting ideas from hunters about how to get close to animals especially deer. I watched a lot of archery deer hunting shows with my finger on the remote and clicked away as the hunter released their arrow. I can’t watch the kill shot. I am not anti-hunting as long as hunting is done legally and responsibly I don’t have a beef
So I made several trips to the Sportsman Warehouse and got some good desert Camo, pants, jacket, face mask, hat, the works. After studying the archery hunters I learned about scent killing techniques as well. Back to Sportsman’s for special soap, detergent, even mouth wash to neutralize human scent. This stuff is amazing! I have had deer walk right by me without knowing I was there. I can’t always get a picture but have had many heart pounding moments. Sometimes they catch a whiff or sense something is not right and bound off but when everything works right it is pretty exciting.
I took this photo of a nice sized Mule deer buck the day after my coyote trapper encounter. I got out to the river around dawn and sat with my back to some sagebrush along a heavily used deer trail. Within 15 minutes of sitting down I saw this buck coming my way. He never saw me. He looks like he sees me in the photo but that alert, ears up look is from him hearing the camera clicks. He kept coming and walked within 20 feet of me. Actually he got too close for my lens.
I am sure I look ridiculous when I am in my camouflage but I almost feel like I have the power of invisibility. I sat in a bush at another location and had a flock of shy, tiny birds land all around me very close to me as they did not realize I was there.
I am learning the value of sitting very still in a zen like state, patiently waiting for what will come rather than hurrying around trying to find what is out there. Please, just don’t send me a mountain lion. 😉

No photos, just words.

I don’t have any photos to post with my words today. Actually, I usually have words to post with my photos as this blog for me has always been meant to be about the photography. I enjoy reading other people’s stories, poems and inspirational writing but I have never felt like I wanted to write long posts or had much to say. Today I don’t have any photos but something to say.

I spend a lot of time visiting a beautiful natural area along the river east of town that the Nature Conservancy has spent millions of dollars restoring over the last 12 years. They have created a paradise for birds and animals. They restored the natural curves and bends to the river, planted thousands of trees, put in a bike path and generously opened this all to the public. There is almost 10 miles of river access that had been ruined by misguided attempts by the Corps of Engineers to control flooding and is now a stunning oasis for animals and humans. I joined the Conservancy after they opened it and I took my first walk through it marveling at my good fortune to live close to this beautiful place and the good work that had been done.

To say I love this place is an understatement. I spend countless hours there walking, thinking, not thinking, watching animals and birds, taking photographs and sitting quietly enjoying the solitude. I worried that when it opened that it would be flooded with people because I could not imagine that everyone would not want to be out there all the time. To my surprise I hardly ever see anyone else. It is a bit of a drive, there are only two access points and you have to hike in. I guess that is enough to dissuade most from visiting.

There are other visitors and I can read the signs of their activity. Footprints, bike tracks and in the fall the tell tale signs of those who think the rules do not apply to them. I find them where the ducks rest on the ponds that were created for them, and in the brush where the quail scurry to take shelter from walkers and bikers, the colorful spent shotgun shell casings litter the ground. I get angry when I see this disregard for the rules of this place. This is a no hunting preserve. This is a place where animals, birds and people can interact with each other without fear or could if it were not for the rule breakers.

I have asked myself what I would do if I encountered hunters on the property. I am often there in the early morning hours in the quiet before dawn and I am there alone. I told myself countless times that to confront anyone would be a mistake and that it would be dangerous. My husband told me the same thing when I expressed my disappointment and frustration with people who would hunt there against the posted rules. So I thought I had a plan, had prepared myself for the inevitable moment that I would run across someone hunting there. I would try to avoid them, take down a license plate number when leaving, report them to the game warden or the caretaker of the preserve but under no circumstances would I confront them.

I have not been out there in a few weeks as I have been waiting for the Mule deer rut to start to get good photos of bucks. I donned my camo, got out there before it was light and started walking through an area that ordinarily is full of deer at dawn. I did not see anything. The area seemed strangely quiet and empty. I circled back around through some sagebrush which in the past I have caught deer bedded down in. A coyote was peeking at me through the sage and I got excited about trying to take photos of it. It ran back and forth frantically and I could hear a chain clinking. My heart sank. Of course it was in a trap. I got a little closer and sure enough it was held there by a leg hold trap. It tried desperately to break free and I was sickened and felt helpless. There was no way I could free it. It sat down and barked at me in fear. As I was deciding that I needed to go I saw a man approaching over the hill.

At this point in the story all of my common sense left me. I shouted out at the man, “Hey are you running a trap line here?” He said, Yes he was.” I said you have a coyote in your trap.” He said good I will be right there.” I stopped in front of him and proceeded to tell him that he was breaking the law and that he could not run a trap line here. This was Nature Conservancy Land. He had all kinds of reasons that he said he could do exactly what he wanted to do here or anywhere else. I asked him for his name which he refused to give. All this time I can hear the coyote distressed behind us. I know that this man is going to either dispatch him with a gun or stomp him to death. He tells me to wait right here while he takes care of it. I blurted out I would not wait and that I would be reporting him and took off walking as fast as I could back to my car thinking what a fool I was to get into a confrontation with someone who most likely was armed.

I was lucky he didn’t follow me. I drove home with two overwhelming emotions; rage and relief. I immediately called the Conservancy office when I got home and reported this incident. They were grateful that I had taken the trouble to report it and assured me that they would deal with him. The man I spoke to was informative and helpful. He gave me the number of the steward who lives on the property to report any further such incidents to. I have that number in my phone now and should I see any hunters or trappers I will stick to the plan and just call that number.

It was very foolish of me to confront someone like that. I won’t do it again, I swear. I have promised my husband that I won’t though he understood why I got so passionate about it. Next time I will act like it is not something I am concerned about, take some photos of the offender or offenders and make that call.

Tufa Rock Formations

The most famous Tufa Rock is found around Mono Lake in California. It is a popular destination for photographers. I have not made my way down there yet though I may soon as this type of landscape photography is of interest to me. We have the same type of Tufa rock formations in and around Pyramid Lake. When we have cloudy days, and I have time I try to get out there to photograph the rocks. Last week the clouds and my schedule aligned so I was able to get a few shots that I liked.